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Thursday, July 9, 2020
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Benefits in the U.S. military

Dear Editor:

No immigrant has ever left his homeland without a valid reason. Every time an immigrant leaves his country of birth it is because he is seeking a better quality of life for his family and himself.

In response to your Editorial of 20-February-2015, I would like to say that yes, since the Vietnam War, the U.S. has eliminated the draft and reorganized its military to be a more professional and capable organization. The U.S. military claims “there’s a big difference between what we have now and anything we’ve had before.” But there have always been opportunities within the U.S. military “for poor Belizean immigrants.” Immigrants who could not find employment at home.

As far back as WWII (1939 -1945), Belizeans with and without the draft were able to enlist in and benefit from their military service. I personally know of several families whose grandfathers, fathers and other members of their families who enlisted during WWII, the Korean War (1950-1953) and the Vietnam War (1955-1975). And while these men or their families may not have known the issues behind the wars they were fighting in, what they did know was how their enlistment could benefit their families and themselves.

One of the many benefits these “poor Belizean immigrants” experienced was a steady paycheck, something they couldn’t find at home. Another immediate benefit was the possibility of U.S. citizenship with its inherent benefits. Additional benefits include health coverage for themselves and their dependents; a pension if they served for more than 20 years; skills-training; special consideration when applying for jobs, i.e., the Postal Service. Another benefit is the G.I. Bill, a program, providing access to low-cost mortgages, low-interest loans to start a business and tuition assistance.

The editorial seems to belittle “poor Belizean immigrants” in the U.S. because it claims “they don’t really know what the issues are.” But I have a question. Can the same be said about the 800 volunteers of the British Honduras Forestry Unit who left Belize during 1941-1942 to cut trees in Scotland as they supported the war efforts of Britain? Of course, these were not enlisted men but they left home to support a war effort nonetheless. What about the Belizeans who enlisted in the British military? Were they any better informed as to the issues they were directly or indirectly supporting? I hear no mention of them.

Belizeans in the diaspora seem to be under constant attack. Their patriotism is questioned. They are criticized for wanting to vote in local elections. They are demonized for wanting to remain where they are. They are deemed as traitors for not returning home to help build their country.

Many of the people in the diaspora would love to return home. But what would that look like if they all were to return to Belize today? How would they be received by those living in Belize? Would they face resentment because they come home with their “foreign ways.” How would they be reabsorbed into the community? A few have repatriated only to be frustrated or rejected and forced to leave the country again.

Housing becomes the first immediate problem, employment the next. Obtaining land in Belize without political association is difficult if not impossible. Where would they all work? Where are the industries in Belize they could immediately seek employment? Not everyone wants to be an entrepreneur; many people like the security of working for companies that provide a steady paycheck with benefits.

Education would be another problem. In the U.S. specifically, education is free from primary school to high school, not so in Belize. Additionally, schools in Belize are predominantly church-affiliated, which means the church indoctrinates the students with their philosophy. A criticism of the current church-run educational system is not blasphemous: it’s an opinion, and should not result in sanctions or excommunication from the church or church community. Education should be about developing analytical and critical thinkers. Our students should be able to question what they are being taught without fear of reprisal. Education should be about educating all school-age children (5-18). Education should be about fostering an environment to create business owners not just service workers.

I don’t know what the definitive answer is to anything. But I do know that the Creator gave man free will and as such, an individual’s right to make decisions for himself and his family should be respected. No one has every crawled into another person’s head to know what that person is thinking. So be kind and understanding.

Best regards,

K. Berry

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